Friday, January 29, 2010

Seeking "stakeholders"

If you've been on a "stakeholder committee" for the city of Charlotte (or Mecklenburg County, for that matter) and would be willing to undergo a short interview about your experience, please e-mail me today at I'm writing my Saturday op-ed column about the stakeholder experience. (An aside, I got plenty of reaction to the uptown retail column of last week, but with no access to e-mail for most of the week I couldn't do a follow-up column. Maybe next week?)

And yes, our e-mail at the Observer is finally back in full this morning. I noticed that without e-mail I did a lot more walking around our office – is e-mail part of what's making Americans obese? And I noticed that once it was restored in a sort of circa 1993 version, 85 percent of what was in there was Viagra spam, Pfizer spam, "Russian girls" spam, press releases from GOP congressional PR folk and some over-the-transom op-eds offered by PR firms. Ugh.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

High-Speed Rail for NC?

Thursday update:
North Carolina's receiving $545 million from that pool of $8 billion for high-speed rail projects.
Here's the story that ran today in the Observer and the News & Observer of Raleigh. Here's the press release from the N.C. DOT.

The DOT reports that North Carolina got $520 million for improvements to tracks that will allow higher speeds between Raleigh and Charlotte and $25 million for projects to improve service reliability from Raleigh north to Virginia. Virginia received $75 million for improvements to the Richmond to Washington section of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor.

A rail "fact sheet" from notes that the strategy in North Carolina is to improve the route incrementally by upgrading existing rights of way. (I.e., instead of wholesale replacement of the line or adding hot new technologies. Don't hold your breath for bullet trains or a French-style TGV.)

Wednesday night post: Apparently, tomorrow's the day it's announced who's getting the $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail projects. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is to appear and "make a Recovery Act announcement" at the Durham train station at 1:15 p.m, says an EPA press release.

Other news media are reporting in from other states. The Orlando Sentinel says President Obama will be in Tampa, and Florida is likely to get $1.25 billion to $1.4 billion. Crain's Chicago Business says Midwest and California also getting money. Some 13 rail corridors in 31 states will get money. Which has me thinking, the Charlotte-Richmond line might not be getting so many pennies after all.

Pat Simmons of the N.C. DOT rail division wouldn't confirm anything, but he said the Charlotte-Richmond corridor asked for $5.4 billion for corridor development. The idea would be to make a lot of fixes along the route to trim travel time. And (this is my wish) maybe add a few more trains?

The N&O's Bruce Siceloff is on the case. He'll snoop out details, I'm sure. See his Crosstown Traffic blog.

Big News for Buzzers, Letter-Writers

OK, folks, here's your big chance. The Observer's e-mail system is down for a second day. We're told that whenever it comes back, there's a chance we'll lose anything sent since Friday.

To you, that means: OPPORTUNITY! That's because our stash of letters to the editor and Buzz items for the editorial pages is empty. The competition for getting your letters and Buzz items published will be much, much easier. In other words, the lottery odds got better.

Feel free to tell any and all friends, neighbors, family, co-workers and the folks you meet in the grocery store checkout line.

Remember, letters to the editor should be 150 words or less and include your name, address and daytime phone number - we don't publish them but we use them for verification. Getting your facts straight is a big plus. So is avoiding libel. We reserve the right to edit for brevity, accuracy and correct English. We put a thumb on the scale for letters that are different from our editorial opinions.

Send them to Our trusty Forum editors are standing by.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

That pane from on high, or down low?

That glass that fell and broke on the sidewalk yesterday? Les Epperson with the City of Charlotte's solid waste services saw the blogpost and called late yesterday to say he'd send a crew to clean it up and look into what happened. We had a small chat about the famous building in Boston whose glass windows showered passersby – the John Hancock Tower, designed by I.M. Pei and Henry Cobb. Eventually all its window panes had to be replaced, costing $5 million to $7 million.

Epperson called back today. "The glass had the consistency of automobile glass," he said. It didn't have a lot of sharp shards, as a glass window from a building would. He thinks it came from a vehicle. Whew!

And to whoever commented that it was not the brightest thing for me to go stand where the glass fell and look up, I must confide that as I was doing so, I thought, "This is not the brightest thing I could be doing ..." But journalists are like cats - we can't switch off the curiosity.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Glass from on high

So I'm out for a late afternoon walk to clear my head, standing on South Tryon getting ready to cross Stonewall Street over to the Gantt Center, and I hear something that sounds like a small explosion. Across the street, just next to the Juan Logan work out front of the Gantt, shards of glass appear to burst from the pavement. Lots of shards.

The wind is gusting mightily - not quite hurricane force winds but maybe 30 or so mph, I'd guess. With some anxiety, I cross the street and look up, and then down at the broken glass, and all around. There are a lot of very small pieces of glass, more than you'd get with a drink bottle. It's gray, not the color of beer or liquor bottles. I don't see any obvious gaping holes in the glass facade of the Duke Energy building, but spot some plywood way, way up high. Could the glass have fallen from that high? Seems unlikely. But where else would it have come from?

A woman who is crossing the street toward me, who had been walking up from the other direction, says she couldn't see where the glass came from either. Like me, she first thought it had come from the artwork in front of the Gantt Center.

I go up to Dean & Deluca, get some decaf - who needs caffeine after that experience? - and walk back to the office, avoiding either side of the block of Tryon in front of the Duke Energy building. The shards are still there. Wherever the glass came from, I think no one realizes it fell, or someone would be out sweeping away the evidence.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Finding that streetcar money

Just finished an interview with Charlotte budget director Ruffin Hall (NOT Ruffin Poole, just in case you're confused by the Ruffins), to find where in the budget this $12 million was hiding. What $12 million? See yesterday's post. Or read on.

Of course, it isn't really hiding. The city staff is pointing to a variety of city funds (listed in the city budget) that still have money in them, funds set aside for just this sort of thing: a project that arises unexpectedly for which elected officials would like to find money.

In this instance, the city is considering whether to set aside $12 million, which it would spend if it gets a $25 million federal grant. The $37 million total would build a 1.5-mile first segment of a proposed 10-mile streetcar line. The City Council is to vote Monday on whether to apply for that grant (plus another one that would add hybrid electric buses). If the city can't find/isn't willing to spend the $12 million there's no point in applying for the grant. Here's a quick rundown of the $12 million:

First, it is capital expense money. That's a separate, $803 million budget apart from the overall $1 billion operating budget that pays for things such as police officers and garbage collection. (You may or may not like the idea of spending the $12 million but it isn't money that could be used to hire more police.) Remember, too, the airport and the water/sewer departments, while counted in the budget, are self-sustaining "enterprise funds." (Also here's the perennial reminder: The city doesn't pay for schools, parks and recreation, welfare, mental health facilities or a variety of other needs paid by the county or state.)

- $2.5 million in streetcar planning funds. Last summer, in a controversial vote, the City Council allocated $8 million for streetcar planning and engineering. The contract came in for less, and $2.5 million is available. You can find it on page 166 of the city budget. Here's a link. This comes from a pot of money called PAYGO (pay as you go). This budget year the city put roughly $96 million into this fund, which is spent for things like transit maintenance, street improvements, roof replacements, etc.

- $10.5 million in reserve for economic development initiatives. This isn't PAYGO money. It's money set aside to repay debt the city might choose to take on. The council's transportation committee members Thursday said they'd use $5.5 million of this fund. Look on page 163 of the budget.

- $ 7 million in business corridor revitalization funds. These, too are PAYGO funds, as yet unspent. The committee didn't want to do this.

- $4 million in Smart Growth fund. That brings us to a multimillion "Smart Growth" fund, which the committee recommends using as part of the needed $12 million. Many folks wonder: The city just has $4 million sitting around that we didn't know about? I asked Hall. It turns out the money isn't just sitting around in some secret account. It's been used to help with transit-oriented development along South Boulevard.

Hall said it's a revolving fund (i.e., the city replenishes it with money the fund itself generates) that the council hasn't put money into for years. Because it doesn't get money allocated to it, it's not a line item on the budget. It would be on the city's financial statement, he said. Here's a link to that. I ran out of time to do more than a search for "Smart Growth" which turned up nothing. (Other writing deadlines loom larger and larger as I type this.)

Hall said the Smart Growth fund was used, for instance, when the city spent money for its proposed Scaleybark transit oriented development project. When the city sold the land to a developer (the project is stuck in the recession and is delayed), the money went back into this fund. I have a call in to Economic Development director Tom Flynn, in whose department Hall said, the fund sits. Hall didn't know whether taking $4 million would drain the fund.
Update: Flynn just called. He says that when Scaleybark Partners, the developer, repays the city in February the Smart Growth fund will have $4 million in it. It was set up as a revolving fund 9 or 10 years ago, he said, to be used for projects of that sort.

Bottom line: Money is fungible. A smart city manager will always keep things flexible enough so he or she can find funds for projects the elected officials want - or for things that arise unexpectedly midyear. I want managers who can do that. At the same time, I think the public (and elected officials) are owed more transparency about how much money is sitting, awaiting expenditure. It's smart to have some reserve money. It's also smart, if you're a council member, to know just what your reserve money is and where it lives in your budget.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Streetcar seems to have momentum

Judging by the votes at a City Council transportation committee meeting this afternoon, the council is likely to vote Monday to apply for a couple of federal grants for transit. One would be for a $15 million project to add more buses on Central Avenue, Beatties Ford Road and out to the airport, essentially doubling the frequency to every 10 minutes. As Patsy Kinsey said – matching what an Observer editorial on Tuesday said – that decision is a "no-brainer."

The other grant is trickier. It would be for $25 million to build a 1.5-mile section of the city's proposed streetcar project. This part would go from Presbyterian Hospital down Elizabeth Avenue (where tracks are already laid) and East Trade Street to the Transportation Center. (If you're not from around here you may not realize Elizabeth and Trade are the same street, with a name change).

The committee voted 3-2 to recommend the city go for the grant. Voting for: committee chairman David Howard, at-large rep Susan Burgess, District 1 rep Kinsey. Voting against: District 7 rep Warren Cooksey, District 4 rep Michael Barnes (who is running for district attorney in November).

Total project cost would be $37 million if the city decided not to buy new streetcars but to use three "replica" (that is, faux historic) trolley cars it owns. How to make up the $12 million difference from the $25M grant? City staff proposed that the council, if it wanted, could use $2.5 million still unspent from a streetcar planning budget line item, $4 million remaining in a "Smart Growth" fund that City Manager Curt Walton said was set up about 10 years ago but never completely spent, and it could take $5.5 million from $10.5 million that remains, unspent, in a reserve fund for economic development. The staff had also pointed to the option to reallocate $7 million from its business corridor revitalization program, but the council members at the committee meeting didn't like that idea.

Barnes' objection: Using the economic development money might mean less money available in the future for improvements to the North Tryon Street light rail corridor. Cooksey (who in 2009 voted against spending any city money for the streetcar project) said he worried that it would not be taken well by the city's partner communities in the Metropolitan Transit Commission. Especially the North Mecklenburg towns still waiting, somewhat patiently, for money to be found to build their commuter rail line. He also said you could do just as much for transportation if you used the "found" money to build sidewalks and bike lanes.

I have to say, it always amazes me how city managers can find little pockets of millions of dollars just when their council member bosses need them. $4 million for "Smart Growth"? Who knew?

Counting likely votes Monday, I'd say the streetcar wins, 7-4. Mayor Anthony Foxx, remember, doesn't vote on those sorts of things.

Sen. Nesbitt, welcome to Charlotte

Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, the N.C. Senate's new majority leader, visited fair Charlotte on Wednesday to meet and greet and, it would seem, reassure the business community that he will be just as business-friendly as his predecessor, Sen. Tony Rand of Fayetteville.

Accompanied by Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg, Nesbitt stopped by the Observer's editorial board - for which we are grateful - and as we chatted, before Graham arrived, he talked a bit about the need for better public transit, especially rail. Seems he had gotten caught in a lengthy traffic jam driving I-95 past Washington. "It was a hundred-mile traffic jam, from Baltimore to Richmond," he said. "We've got to find another way."

But then, he started talking about rail transit and how it hasn't been successful. Mentioned Charlotte's new (as of 2007) light rail line and asked how it had worked out. We told him it had beat all its ridership projections and was in most parts deemed a success. "Oh," he said.

I think Charlotte Area Transit System (aka CATS) leaders might want to buy the man a lunch or three and take him for a spin on the Lynx some rush hour afternoon ...

My colleague Jack Betts, who among his many valuable contributions writes the This Old State blog, recalled:

Back in the 1990s when legislators could still accept such trips, the Charlotte Chamber brought legislators to Charlotte for a Hornets basketball game and a tour around town. I wound up strolling around the Blumenthal with Nesbitt and another House appropriations chair, David Diamont of Surry County. It was obvious neither of them got to Charlotte much, and they seemed to be awestruck with all the new buildings, the cultural amenities – including some built with state assistance – and the can-do atmosphere that marked a city clearly on the rise. They were struck by how many things Charlotte had and aspired to, compared with the rest of the state.

The things they saw in Charlotte were not new things that no one from elsewhere wouldn't have known about, and it struck me that Charlotte was not a part of the state that these legislators visited often.

Nesbitt's remarks about transit Wednesday seemed to show that he had not spent much time in the Queen City since then, either. It's not that he doesn't get around. With a district in Buncombe, a law practice and a stock car racing team he helps his son with, and a legislative concentration on what went wrong with the state's badly botched mental health reforms, he has stayed busy – and as Senate majority leader he'll be busier yet.

Betts concluded: "If I were the Charlotte transit folks, I'd have a representative sitting in his office tomorrow morning at 8 a.m."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

No 'Age of Aquarius' at planning department

Best line in the agenda for tonight's City Council zoning meeting, which is a rezoning meeting and the agenda is put together by the city's planning department. Under item No. 6, regarding zoning petition 2oo9-067:
"The Zoning Committee voted 4-1 to recommend DENIAL of this petition. The following outstanding issues have been addressed: (and then a long list of things such as setbacks, parking counts and buffers)
"14. Astrological Services has been deleted as a permitted use"

Update: I asked Tammie Keplinger of the planning department. Her reply:
"The Zoning Administrator has indicated that astrological services are office uses. It doesn’t need to be specifically listed on the site plan because it would be an allowed use in the O-1(CD) district."

No word yet about fortune tellers or palm readers, but one could assume they, too, are office uses.

I'll be at the meeting, "Tweeting" at @marynewsom. Here's link to the agenda.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

EPA video spotlights Charlotte, Dilworth

New video posted on the EPA's Web site lauds the city's Urban Street Design Guidelines and the East Boulevard Road Diet, which illustrates the city's transportation design goals. Check it out. Mayor Anthony Foxx, ex-Mayor Pat McCrory, council member Susan Burgess, ex-council member and current city department head Patrick Mumford and others talk about how great the Urban Street Design Guidelines are.

It stems from the city's National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, announced in December, in the "Policies and Regulations" category for the USDG.

Yet the developers' lobby, the local Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, as well as influential, long-time real estate magnate John Crosland Jr., are still urging the city to dial back – or un-adopt, or never actually codify into ordinances, or otherwise eviscerate – those same USDG. They don't like the requirements for modestly shorter blocks, or the width of the planting strips (wide enough so street trees will survive) or the general policy to build more streets and sidewalks in new developments. It'll add cost, they say. And yep, it will.

But what's the cost of congestion? What's the cost of not being able to ride a bicycle or walk anywhere? What's the cost of street trees that die? What's the cost of having to retrofit streets and build sidewalks into already built neighborhoods - at taxpayer expense. The costs exist. It's just a question of where you inject them into the growth process: at the start, or later on and spread among a wider group of payers, i.e. us taxpayers.

Visions of the City

If you've an interest in city-building and city design, mark these lectures on your calendar.
UNC Charlotte's School of Architecture's spring lecture series is "Visions of the City." It's part of the inaugural year of UNCC's new Master's degree in Urban Design housed at the School of Architecture.

The first is in uptown. The rest are at the School of Architecture on the UNCC campus, Storrs Hall 110.

Jan. 20, 6-7:30 p.m. - "Design After the Age of Oil" - Gary Hack, Knight Theater, co-sponsored with Charlotte Center City Partners.

Hack is professor of urban design at the University of Pennsylvania. He is former chair of Philadelphia City Planning Commission and has prepared plans for more than 30 cities in the United States and abroad, and was the lead urban designer in the team of Daniel Libeskind’s winning design for redeveloping the World Trade Center site in New York. Free, but you must rsvp to:

Feb. 3 "Cities After the End of Cities" - Robert Fishman - 5-6:30 p.m., UNCC Storrs Hall.

Fishman is professor of architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan and a nationally recognized expert in urban history, policy and planning and, more recently, "ex-urbs." Among his books are "Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (1987)," and "Urban Utopias in the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier (1977)." His most recent work is on "ex-urbs."

Feb. 17 - "Planning, Ecology and Emergence of Landscape" - Charles Waldheim - 5-6:30 p.m., Storrs Hall, UNCC

Waldheim is professor and department chair of Landscape Architecture at Harvard University. He coined the term “landscape urbanism.” Professor Waldheim’s lecture will provide a historical survey of the role of landscape architecture in the formation of cities and regions, and examine several recent projects in North America that propose landscape and ecology as creative drivers of urban design. Such propositions will suggest potential models for planning, informed by contemporary understandings of landscape and ecology as new media of urban design.

Feb. 24 "Recent Work" - Yung Ho Chang. 5-6:30 p.m., UNCC Storrs Hall.
Yung Ho Chang is a professor and heads the Department of Architecture at MIT. He taught in the U.S. for 15 years before returning to Beijing to establish one of the first independent practices in China, Atelier FCJZ.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Megaregions: Next big thing? Or just nutty?

Alan Ehrenhalt, respected editor of Governing magazine, has weighed in on the issue of "megaregions," wherein he questions this decades-old theory that metro regions (e.g. CharLanta( need to be treated as one entity. Hence the term, CharLanta.

I don't intend to be on a Richard Florida kick (See my posting about "The Ruse of the Creative Class") but Ehrenhalt does quote Florida as hopping on the au courant megaregions trend. But he goes on to note that transportation is one area in which planning regionally, or more to the point, megaregionally, makes sense.

Megaregionally? Charlotte can't even come up with transportation planning that recognizes that Cabarrus, Iredell and York counties have anything to do with traffic in Mecklenburg! As a certain editorial writer on the Observer's editorial board who is also a blogger opined Jan. 3 (you folks in the Charlotte region probably slept late and missed this):

Plan Transportation Regionally

It sounds like a bizarre camaraderie of dwarfs: MUMPO, GUAMPO, CRMPO, GHMPO and RFATS (in the Disney version he'd be the chubby, clumsy one). Let us not forget LNRPO and RRRPO (the small but snarling pirate dwarf?).
As if the names aren't funny enough, here's a thigh-slapper: All seven are transportation planning agencies for greater Charlotte.
Even if you toss out GHMPO (Greater Hickory Metropolitan Planning Organization) you still have an insane number of separate agencies ostensibly planning transportation in one metro region. And if you don't think transportation planning in Rock Hill-Fort Mill (RFATS) and LNRPO (Lake Norman Rural Planning Organization) doesn't affect transportation throughout the greater Charlotte region, well, you haven't traveled on Interstate 77.
Ask most planners and they'll tell you - off the record of course, so as not to tick off politicians - that sane transportation planning is mere fantasy until all six or seven MPOs and RPOs merge into one true metropolitan planning organization.
MPOs are federally mandated to plan "regionally." Indeed, Title 23 of the U.S. Code says an MPO should cover a whole metro area. However, smaller cities such as Gastonia or Concord have little interest in joining with the Mecklenburg behemoth, fearing their share of state and federal transportation money would shrink.
If the region's governments won't do the right thing, the state should force it. At least two men in Raleigh get it. N.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Gene Conti is savvy about transportation policy, politics and about true regional planning. So is Sen. Dan Clodfelter, a Charlotte Democrat whose seniority and smarts have given him significant clout in Raleigh.
And both states must figure out how an MPO can cross state lines, so York County, S.C., can join the region's transportation planning. Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., all have multi-state MPOs. It can't be rocket science.

To read all six of the editorial board's Agenda 2010 items, visit this link.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

'The Ruse of the Creative Class'

Is Richard Florida, author ("The Rise of the Creative Class"), professor and guru of the Creative Class philosophy, just another Harold Hill selling bohemian coffee shops and brew pubs, instead of band instruments to gullible townspeople?

An article in the American Prospect, "The Ruse of the Creative Class," by Washington Post writer Alec MacGillis inches up to that conclusion – without completely landing it. But MacGillis point to the huge number of cities such as Elmira, N.Y., and Cleveland, that embraced Florida's theories – some of them paying rather a lot of money to his consulting firm – but haven't yet found creative class nirvana.

MacGillis writes, "... by some measures, yuppie idylls like San Francisco and Boston have lagged behind unhip, low-tax bastions like Houston and Charlotte, North Carolina."

Ouch! Unhip? Us? (And I know plenty of people are yelping, "low-tax"??!!!)

The lengthy article is nuanced and points out many complexities, and quotes Florida at length answering his critics. I recommend reading it – before you come to any knee-jerk decision on whether you do or don't agree with it, or with Florida.

That said, my take on Florida's theories goes roughly like this: He pinpoints something that has been important in some cities, but there's no silver bullet that will solve what ails many cities. If a city attracts more artists and creative types, it generally prospers. But simply declaring one's city to be "creative" doesn't make it so, nor does paying a consultant to come tell you you should be creative. (Charlotte tried that a while back. I don't think we're any more or less creative than we would have been. We're bigger now, so we have higher numbers of "creatives" but I'm pretty sure that was a result of growth, not any study for which anyone got paid.) Cities are organic and develop in organic ways that are hard to manage and predict.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

What are our great places?

Skaters at The Green, where the ice rink is open through Saturday.

Contest alert: If there's a spot you think is a Great Place in America, you can vote from now until Feb. 25 at the American Planning Association's "Great Places in America" contest. Click on this link. I note that the Main Street in Greenville, S.C., is among the 2009 Great Streets.

I think we should go for it. Pick a few great spots in Charlotte, or maybe in nearby towns, and start voting.

- What about The Green uptown? It is a wonderful public space. (5:05 p.m.: A reader notes it's privately owned, not true "public" space.)
- What about East Kingston Avenue in Dilworth? It is a beautiful public street.
- What about the NoDa neighborhood, or Plaza-Midwood?
- Downtown Shelby, downtown Salisbury, downtown Concord.

Have at it.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Shrinking cities, 'shovel-ready' and more

That great Web site,, and writers Nate Berg and Tim Halbur offer their take on the biggest planning issues of 2009. Top o the list, you'll not be surprised to see, is the Great Recession.

Next is "Shrinking Cities," followed by "The 'Shovel-Ready' Conundrum," and "High-Speed Rail."
Except for the high-speed rail, this region experienced all those travails.

The Planetizen recession article has a link with this woeful headline: "Architect Tops List of Hardest-Hit Jobs." Carpenters came in at No. 2. I think the devastation in the architure profession may be one of the great underreported stories of 2009.

The section on Shrinking Cities ends with a link to an LA Times report that a large commercial farm is buying abandoned land in Detroit with hopes of establishing a large-scale commercial enterprise. Here's another link, to a Fortune magazine piece on the same topic. It may sound crazy, but if so, a lot of respected planners are crazy. The Fortune piece notes: "After studying the city's options at the request of civic leaders, the American Institute of Architects came to this conclusion in a recent report: 'Detroit is particularly well-suited to become a pioneer in urban agriculture at a commercial scale.' "

The high-speed rail section includes this paragraph, quoting the always quotable author and dystopian James Howard Kunstler: "James Howard Kunstler, who famously said that America has 'a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of,' commented that high-speed rail is overspec'd and unnecessary. In 2009, Kunstler wrote that 'Californians (and the U.S. public in general) would benefit tremendously from normal rail service on a par with the standards of 1927, when speeds of 100 miles-per-hour were common and the trains ran absolutely on time (and frequently, too) without computers (imagine that!)'

There are a wealth of links. Happy reading.

About those butt bins

A quick update from Moira Quinn at Charlotte Center City Partners, re the new cigarette urns uptown:

"The urns are all in Uptown. They were installed on Wednesday, December 30. The TOTAL cost for all 24 was $3,000 (about $125 each). They will save a lot of man-hours to keep city crews from picking up the cigarette butts from the sidewalks. We pride ourselves on having clean sidewalks, so we would have expected our uptown crews to sweep them up. Hopefully, there will be fewer to sweep and those crews can spend their time doing other work."

This refers to my posting yesterday about the new cigarette urns.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Foxx makes his moves

Sorry about the lengthy hiatus, faithful readers. Vacation happens, thank goodness. Meantime I've been stashing away tidbits for you.

Foxx makes committee announcements: I don't think the Big O had an article on this, but in mid-December Mayor Anthony Foxx announced the City Council committee assignments. This sounds like City Hall inside-baseball, but City Hall watchers know they matter. Committees can speed up issues, stall them or sometimes make them disappear. Here's where having a Democratic instead of a Republican mayor changes the landscape. Notice the committees with the most influence over policies and ordinances that affect growth, development, transportation, etc.:
- Foxx has split Economic Development and Planning (aka ED&P and formerly chaired by Republican John Lassiter). The new ED committee is chaired by Democrat Susan Burgess. Transportation (formerly chaired by Foxx) is now Transportation and Planning, chaired by new Democratic council member and former Char-Meck Planning Commission chair David Howard.
- Environment continues to be chaired by Republican Edwin Peacock III, but the committee now has a Democratic voting majority: Peacock, Dulin and Democrats Burgess, Howard and vice chair Nancy Carter. (Republican Warren Cooksey leaves the committee.)

No Butts Uptown? Coming to uptown (unless they're already there – it was too cold today to go check): New cigarette disposal urns on waste receptacles on uptown sidewalks, courtesy of the City of Charlotte's Solid Waste Services. See photo at right. This, of course, is sparked in part by the new ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, effective Jan. 2. The city notes that it picks up thousands of cigarette butts daily from sidewalks and streets, and those butts are not biodegradable. When they wash into storm drains and then into the creeks they release toxic chemicals into the water, such as arsenic, acetone, lead, toluene, butane, cadmium, etc. So stow your butts, smokers.

Enviro-artist to stick around: Environmental artist Daniel McCormick, whom I wrote about here (and check the cool video link there) – who created the art at Freedom Park – has had his residency at the McColl Center for Visual Art extended through January. He and other collaborators are working on a proposal to keep him here for six months to design a “master plan” for three years of artists/sites along the Carolina Thread Trail.

Wilmore wins magazine kudos: Southern Living magazine declared Wilmore and South End among the South's Best Comeback Neighborhoods. I was on vacation but the City Council voted down the rezoning for the Wilmore church on Dec. 21. (And I am here to report, courtesy of chef and hostess extraordinaire Susan Patterson of the local Knight Foundation office, that the devil's food cake featured on the cover of the December issue was as delicious as it looked.)